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Rat infestations and overcrowding: Probe into Cork halting site exposes dangerous living conditions

Activists say the conditions negatively impact upon children’s rights.

File photo of a halting site.
File photo of a halting site.
Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated May 24th 2021, 12:52 PM

TRAVELLER RIGHTS GROUPS have welcomed a new long-term report which has recommended improvements to living conditions at a Cork halting site which activists say has the potential to change conditions at sites across the country.

The Traveller Visibility Group (TVG) and the Cork Traveller Women’s Network (CTWN) said the findings of a report show that the conditions at the site are negatively impacting the rights of the children living there.

This is the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) first report which examined the living conditions of Traveller children at one particular halting site in Cork.

The report looked at the conditions for a period of three years, which makes it one of the largest complaints that the OCO has investigated.

It found: 

  • A persistent problem with a rodent infestation
  • Inadequate sanitation
  • Extreme overcrowding
  • Safety concerns about access to the site
  • Illegal dumping nearby
  • Inconsistent and inadequate waste disposal
  • Inadequate heating systems
  • Unsafe and inadequate electrical works
  • A high rate of childhood illness caused by living conditions
  • No amenities or safe play areas for children o Housing applications for some families not being progressed

The OCO spoke to several children who live on the site. 

One 12-year-old girl said: “Walking up to school you see all the rats. They would be running up and down the walls of the trailer.”

Another girl added: “It’s like an abandoned place that people forgot about, it’s like we’re forgotten, we feel like garbage.”

The OCO found the local authority failed to consider the best interests of children living at the site and that it failed to maintain the site, including the upkeep of toilet and showering facilities known as welfare units.

The local authority did not ensure consistent waste management and pest control, the investigation found.

It failed to provide a clear and safe passage to school and areas for children to play.

Additionally, the investigation identified several administrative failures that had tangible impacts on the community.

Record keeping was not transparent or accountable, and there was overcrowding on the site as a result of poor administration.

Housing applications were incomplete or not processed, which meant that some families may have missed out on securing a home or were not moved up the list.

The local authority “failed to account for the disadvantages experienced by Travellers in effectively securing accommodation and they did not meet their obligations in relation to the Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP)”.

The OCO has made a series of recommendations following the report, including that the the housing applications complaints made by the 11 families involved be reviewed without delay.

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“The health and safety risks identified must be addressed in cooperation with residents. Connecting all mobile units to plumbing and sewerage, refurbishing welfare huts, removing fire hazards, clearing the children’s passage to school, waste management, pest control and electrical works are all required,” the OCO said.

“Paralysis in the system cannot continue. The local authority should set out how they will address the accommodation needs of the site residents in the coming years.”

  • TOUGH START: Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project to investigate if enough is being done to help give Traveller children a good start in life.

In a statement, the Traveller rights groups said they were particularly pleased as the findings of this OCO report “should have a positive impact on the living conditions of children in Traveller accommodation across the country”.

The groups have also called for local representatives to ensure the delivery of the Traveller Accommodation Plan 2019-2024 along with the delivery of OCO’s recommendations in this report. 

They said they were “acutely aware” that Traveller specific developments are terminated due to local opposition during the planning application.

Breda O’Donoghue of the Traveller Visibility Group said it is positive to see that the local authority involved in this study has agreed to a detailed action plan with OCO to go about resolving the many issues that impact on children’s rights who are living on the site.

Brigid Carmody of the Cork Traveller Women’s Network (CTWN) added: “We welcome the ongoing monitoring of OCO in implementing the action plan as this ensures real structural change for the families living on the site and accountable actions that must be delivered.”

Additional reporting by Lauren Boland

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